Long story short

Updated: 14 October, 2019 07:58 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

Two Australian educators will share ancient indigenous storytelling traditions from their homeland with Mumbai's young, impressionable minds

Ask Uncle Larry Walsh what's a typical day in his life in Australia and he arrives at a well-defined answer for his profession. "I tell young aboriginal artistes stories so they can use them within their arts." The 56-year-old Tungerong aboriginal cultural leader and storyteller is one of the only elders in Melbourne who focuses specially on storytelling, thus ensuring the continuity of ancient oral traditions. Dreamtime, a term coined by ethnologist Francis Gillen in 1896, refers to the period in which life came to be — the aboriginal understanding of the world. And this Wednesday, Walsh will perform dreamtime stories honouring the 60,000-year-old oral traditions of the Kulin Nations from South Eastern Australia, at a Mahalaxmi venue.

The session, organised by the Australian Consulate General in collaboration with Pomegranate Workshops, is aimed at students, educators and library facilitators. Walsh sees the younger generation as torchbearers for the future and even in a digital age, states that old stories still hold relevance. "There's one dating back 25,000 years that I tell. It's about a drought, but also about how we got the koala bear. When scientists examined the remains of that period, they were able to prove that there was a drought that lasted many years," he informs, proceeding to give another example of a tale on the origins of the platypus. In dreamtime stories, the animal is considered to be a hybrid of the duck and water rat. "It took scientists seven countries, three years and 10 million dollars to say the same thing; the platypus is supposed to be a mix of a mammal and a bird. So, back then, people knew without written knowledge how animals behaved and how they came to be."

But there's more to these oral traditions than just stories centered on nature. Walsh says that there's a deeper connection, one linked to abilities. If a person has been given a name of an animal, bird or reptile that is said to have a particular quality, then the person tends to go by that ability. "If you're named after a crow, for instance, then you are likely to be an educator," he says. Walsh, hence, regards storytelling as a way of keeping whatever happens in the world at a given point in time alive, so that people can remember that there was change.

Now, on his first trip to India, Walsh is excited to meet Indian storytellers. "India has always been one of the places I've wanted to visit because I've admired how the country used peace to get Independence. It made me go, 'Woah! A whole country can get freedom without violence," he shares. And the storyteller is certainly looking forward to his Mumbai visit. He adds, "You might think this is funny but I'd like to see a street scene of a Bollywood movie, like a set where you have locals walking past. In Australia, Bollywood movies are big. I haven't watched any, but my children tell me, which is why I said, 'Oh, maybe I could sneak
in one.'"

On October 16, 2 pm to 3 pm (Students assemble by 1.45 pm)
At G5A Foundation, Laxmi
Mills Compound, Mahalakshmi. Email pomegranateworkshop1@gmail.com (to register; specify number of students, their grade, names of accompanying language teachers and their mobile numbers)

Ron Murray
Ron Murray

Do the didgeridoo

Ron Murray, a didgeridoo soloist, will accompany Uncle Larry. "The aerophone is native to Australia and a traditional instrument that is said to be at least 60,000 to 80,000 years old. "We'll be performing together; he'll be making some of the sounds of the animals while I'm narrating the stories," Walsh says. The session is open to students from grades six to 10. Each school can get a maximum number of 20 students and two teachers.

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First Published: 14 October, 2019 07:50 IST

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